September 22, 2017
By: Jenn Pfenning

As a vegetable farmer, I talk a lot about vegetables. In fact, I get downright giddy about them sometimes. If you want to see me smile, just let me get my hands into soil or onto plants in the field. When surrounded by our fields or freshly harvested produce I can wax poetic about the flavour combinations of vegetables and seasonal foods and terroir to the point that people look at me funny.  That’s because I am passionate about food.  Good food.

The passion doesn’t end with great tasting food and nurturing beautiful, healthy soil. It carries on to the people whose hands work alongside mine.  The rest of the brilliant, talented and hardworking men and women who make up the Pfenning Pfarm Pfamily.

If you have been reading this blog, you will have read about the awesome Jamaican men who come every year to spend the season working beside us.  The program that brings them here every year is the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). It has been in the news more in the last few years than ever before. Much of what has been reported has been negative. There are problems with the program and how it is regulated.

If there are so many problems, why not scrap it? End exploitation and discrimination by ending the program.  That is too simplistic. It is still a very important and valuable program for the many men and women who are employed through it. None of them would want to see it end. So we have to make it better.

There are many people and groups who have been advocating for changes and presenting studies to explain why things need to change. It has not resulted in the broad-based program changes that would significantly improve the workers’ experiences in a meaningful way.

I think that is about to change.

Last year, we hosted an event called “Film on The Farm” to bring awareness to the situation. There was a series of events organised by Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) and others. Documentaries and media attention have also helped to raise awareness of the issue. The list of people who should be credited here wouldn’t fit. Our small part in this has been to connect and communicate.

It began with friendship that grows from sharing work and breaking bread together. Our conversations with our own workers opened our eyes to the varied experience of being a SAWP worker. Through them we connected with workers on other farms.  It grew as we were talking with J4MW, the National Farmers Union, other farmers, politicians, individuals who care about how our society treats people and through many food justice conversations with many people.

As we share thoughts and ideas, we see connections.  What one group is doing may be served by connecting with others we have spoken with. Collectively we build on positive ideas for changes that can make the program live up to the often touted claim that it is an international model for the managed migration of seasonal agricultural labour. Losing this program is not a solution to the problems.

Last year the HUMA committee did a review and tabled a report in the House of Commons. Now, the HRSDC is beginning a thorough review of the Primary Agriculture Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Hope. The review is the beginning of hope. Hope that we can find a way to serve the needs of the workers to have dignified, respectful relationships with their employers that are protected by a regulatory framework that empowers them.

We look forward to many more years of rewarding and fruitful work alongside the men we have come to love as friends and brothers.